Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 32
RIDDLE: WHY AM I HERE?
In our last chapter we called attention to Peter’s prescription for spiritual growth as given in 1 Peter 2:1-2. We pointed out that Peter drew a comparison between physical and spiritual growth. We discussed the fact that just as freedom from disease and proper diet were essential to proper physical growth, so freedom from malice, guile, hypocrisies, envies, and evil speaking, along with a proper spiritual diet were essential to spiritual growth. But if a child is to grow physically in a normal and healthy way he must always have plenty of fresh air and proper exercise. This is true of our spiritual growth as well.
How does one breathe spiritually? We know that we feed on the word of God. What and how do we breathe? Just what do we do when we breathe physically? We pull inside us fresh, wholesome, life-giving oxygen, while we push out of us a poison called carbon dioxide. We are taking in that which is essential to life and expelling that which would be destructive to life. We are inhaling the good and exhaling the bad. I know of no better description for either the process of physical breathing or the process of prayer. Prayer then is spiritual breathing. We can see the good sense in such an admonition as “Pray without ceasing.” We can no more continue to live spiritually and to grow without prayer than we can hope to retain physical life without breathing.
There is also the need for exercise. That muscle which is never used or stretched will perish. What exactly is the nature of exercise? It is the straining of the muscles against some obstacle that challenges them. These obstacles may be weights that a man lifts, even if it be no more than the weight of his feet in walking. In every form of exercise however the muscles are opposed in some way to make them exert extra energy to stretch themselves in overcoming the opposition. It is true also with spiritual exercise. Spiritual exercise is the meeting and overcoming of obstacles. If we never had any troubles or temptations we would never have any obstacles against which our spiritual muscle could exercise itself. Chastisement and trial then may well be a blessing when we consider that in meeting it we develop the sinews of our souls. It is these very obstacles that, though they make life difficult sometimes, also help to make it interesting. On the football field touchdowns would be much easier if there were not eleven men out there trying to stop you but the very thing that make the touchdowns easy would take the joy and meaning out of them. Take away the sand traps and you have hurt the game of golf. Take down the net and you have ruined the game of tennis. It is true as well that if you remove all obstacles from the great game of life you have ruined the game. It was Browning who said:
“Then welcome each rebuff that turns earth’s smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit, nor stand, but go!
Be our joy three parts pain, learn nor account the pang,
Dare, never grudge the three.”
In Eden man needed no thorns and thistles. He could live in a paradisiacal environment because he himself was pure. But after he sinned the love of God could not leave him in the midst of perfect surroundings. He must, being now imperfect, have an imperfect environment in order to stimulate his growth. An imperfect man living in a perfect environment would never grow for he could never find any reason to. There would never be anything that he could stretch his spiritual muscle against.
Growth however requires a goal. The little boy is growing up so that he can be “just like Daddy.” What is the goal of Christian growth and how can we know when we are reaching out toward it? John puts it very well indeed. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be. But this we know, we shall be like Him.” The goal of Christian growth then is to become like Christ. This is what God has in mind for quite ordinary little people like you and me. This is our mark to shoot at. God is going to turn us into something like Christ if we will let him. Of course it won’t be easy but, if we surrender to God’s will, it can be done.
Sign of Growth
What are the signs of growth? The major sign of growth is love for and unselfish interest in others. A baby is born completely selfish. In his early years he believes his parents exist purely for his service and pleasure. This is natural for a very small child and we expect it. But it is a tragedy if he never grows out of it. I have known some gray-headed babies who never grew out of it. The major sign of retardation is selfishness. You are here upon this earth then for the purpose of growing a soul. Are you doing it? What a pity if God must one day take that shriveled little thing you call your soul into the palm of his hand and sorrowfully say, “I can take water and make the seven seas. I can take an acorn and build a mighty oak. But with this dwarfed and shriveled thing I can do nothing. Take it away.”
In considering this matter of spiritual growth Peter goes on to give specific instruction to govern conditions in which Christian people may find themselves. I particularly want to consider what he had to say about the married state in 1 Peter 3. Following that we shall take a brief look at 1 Peter 3:18, 19. In one sense I would like to avoid this passage for it is a mysterious one and has been the ground for some confusion and controversy. It seems hardly fair to avoid it however, when I remember all the questions that have been asked me concerning it through the years I have been preaching. We shall have to give a little space therefore to what Peter was talking about when he spoke of Christ preaching to the souls in prison. We lack that space in this chapter however and shall have to defer the study of marriage and the study of 1 Peter 3:18, 19 until our next chapter.